Tag: Dad

Eight years in remission – viva la vulva!

I never thought I would see another eight years. Really, I didn’t. After my cancer surgery in 2007, my oncologist was certain that more cancer would grow, that the surgery I had wouldn’t hold, and that I’d die. Thankfully that hasn’t happened, and today marks eight years since I underwent the surgery to save my life. The icing on the proverbial cake is that I’ve had no more cancer in my vulva (there’s that word again!). Viva la vulva, I say.

I find it quite incredible that in my immuno-compromised body, that I am still alive. And you know what? After what I went through with that surgery, I can hold my head high and say that I deserve it. If I never have to have life saving surgery ever again, it won’t be too soon.

Below are a couple of photos – the first being just before I started throwing massive seizures and went into a coma. Now, don’t I look fucking miserable here? Well, of course I was. I had a broken vagina which is enough to sink any woman. As well as my broken bits, I had skin grafts that possibly wouldn’t take, and a poo bag that had the tendency to explode several times a day. I clearly have a bowel obstruction in this photo – something that wasn’t picked up until too late – and by the next day, my family didn’t know if I was going to die or live out the rest of my days in a nursing home.

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As always, my sister was with me. Here she is standing over me in ICU, and just like when I had my transplant, my family played my favourite music, but even on the suggestion of my friend Kate, not even Axl Rose could rouse me. Music seemed to be the only thing that would soothe me after both surgeries, especially during the long nights where everything seemed to go wrong. Think collapsed lungs, bleeding, broken beds (and not in a fun way), and uncontrollable pain. I am so grateful for the kindness of the nurses on the broken vagina ward.

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So what am I going to do to celebrate today? I’m going to embrace the ordinariness of life and start my Christmas baking. I did two practice runs last weekend with my very first fruitcakes and they were a hit. I ate the last slice last night with a cup of sweet, milky tea, but I gave most of it away to my folks. My old man is quite the human garbage disposal, and that’s where I get my deadly sweet tooth from. Today I’ll get all of my dried and glacé fruit and soak it in rum for the next month, then I’ll bake the cakes and ‘feed’ them with rum until my family can enjoy a slice or three on Christmas day with the requisite custard.

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I’ve never been much of a baker or decorator, so I was pretty chuffed with how these turned out.

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And so that is how I will celebrate today. Eight years of so many experiences that have shaped me – and I suppose ‘baked’ me to a degree. And that’s ok, otherwise I wouldn’t be at this point in my life. I can honestly say that the view from here is fucking spectacular, thanks to my family, friends, doctors and of course, the choices I’ve made to get me here. Viva la vulva!

My night without armour

May-August 1998

I was in the dying room. You know the one. It’s quiet. People slip in and out as though they were never there. Festering in a bed for three months, I had grown tired. My arms were the shape of soft baguettes, peppered with freckles like sesame seeds. Lips, a permanent shade of blue. Colourless fingers and toes – lily matchsticks, sans red ends. My hair had been falling out and I had forgotten how to use my legs. Twenty-one not out. For every year, I had lived four. I was a pale vintage just short of eighty-five. But I was sick.

Sick of white sheets. Sick of fluorescent lights. Sick of ward vagrants hobbling into my room, bottles full of piss hanging from petechia stained fingers, begging for my help; their gowns askew showing either flat and wrinkly bottoms or saggy, hairless balls.

Friday 21 August, 1998 8pm.

I watched Burke’s Backyard and said goodbye to my family for the night. Said hello to a morphine bolus. Like a little death itself, that pause from pain. I would feel every drop spread through each cell of my body; like someone had cast a hot blanket over me. It would anchor me to the bed, carving out a grave in the hollow of my mattress. Interweave me, you two thick threads, I would whisper; one flame licking the other in need of a partner. Show me mercy.

Saturday 22 August 1998. Midnight, or just after.

In rushes Daisy, my midnight oriental muse. She injects drugs into my chest to buy me another day’s grace so that one life may be taken and given to another.

Tonight it was to be my turn. Eight months and twenty-two days I had waited for the beeper to beep. But instead of its rapid fire chirp, it was a phone call, shrill and cutting. Fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck. I hang up the phone and nurses keen in and carry me into the toilet where I piss blood for the last time.

With my possessions gathered – my Auden and my Heaney, my copper bookmark and a sputum cup – the room looks like I have never been there. Flowers on my bedside table hold me to ransom – the colours having taken on a death hue. I winch my wasted legs into a pair of jeans, my flat bum loathe to fill the denim mould. Daisy finds me a shirt that disguises my barrelled chest, breasts having shrivelled long ago, but ready to be full again. I try to wedge my blue feet into my stinking blue converse while another nurse succours me with another jab of morphine.

The ambulance sits in one of the emergency bays like a glorified hearse waiting to transport the living dead. But what of the person whose lungs were going to be settled into my body tonight? Was it a man or a woman? How did they die? Was it a car crash? It couldn’t be. The lungs and heart get squashed like soft fruit between over eager fingers. Could it have been a brain bleed? How old were they? What of their family? What of their children? I wonder if it was a woman. Who would she want me to be? One woman dies for another – I didn’t want to disappoint. Responsibilities weigh on my wilted head, soon to be fat from steroids.

My mind peels off, focusing on the next breath. Anything of consequence, outside that esky with my or her or his lungs in it, worsted with each breath and I think ‘I don’t know how to be with this’. What I did know what that there were going to be chains pulling my ribcage apart. Pulling my ribcage apart so my sternum could break. Breaking my sternum so surgeons could push past muscle, sinew, bone, veins and nerves to get to my lungs – those blackened masses like giant mussels having sat in stagnant water; lips covered in downy fur, shell white and slimy, but like bedrock where no knife could pierce. My empty treasure chest. I likened the surgeons cutting through a dense back wood to find a decomposing body. They were going to uproot the trees poisoning the forest. Make the forest clean again.

Wet roads prompted thoughts of car crashes. Absurd conversations about public holidays and the road toll had been a primitive form of optimism. Easter was a pensive time. Then we’re told that hearts and lungs are squashed on impact. I would feel self-disgust mixed with equal parts of hope, but you learn to live lighter when you’ve been dying for nearly nine months, and friend after friend has breathed their last waiting for their second chance that never came.

The night I coughed up a cup of blood, my father said he’d find a triathlete and hire a hit man to save me. Is it selfish to hinge onto the notion that someone must die so that I can cease to exist and begin to live?

I sit up in the ambulance and spit out what looks like a brown slug, flecked with red. The cup is soon flooded with molasses – fatter and far blacker than any leech – and I rattle like a bag of marbles.

One-thirty am.

My red and white hearse clogs two emergency bays while the rain swathing the city has has evaporated. The sky is smudged with patchy clouds and the moon hangs with its silent lull, while winds fat with caution slap my cheeks; the warp and weft intangible in their bearing. Squalls skirling down from the ranges sprint off lands edge and the thumping blades of a helicopter unnerve me and I turn on myself; questioning whether my new lungs were being hauled across sticky linoleum in a store bought esky.

I’m then hankering for food. Hadn’t eaten a solid meal in six months, but I’m hungry. My boyfriend had dropped in at a late night store to buy me flowers and chocolate that I couldn’t eat. How I loved him.

People stood on the kerb – drunk boys and grieving girls. Grieving for what was, what may be, what may not come to pass.

Father chain smoking. Sister crying. Nuns praying. Mother’s hands wringing. Friends mouths twisted into concern. Thirty-six of them lashed together; spine against spine.

I’m taken up to the ward to an onslaught of questions and a nurse Ratchet type who tells us to be quiet – ‘other patients are sleeping’. She makes us feel like impish school kids until Chelse spits back, ‘she’s only having a fucking transplant.’ My doctor sits next to me, his hair and glasses askew. Dog tired and skittish, he tells me that ‘it’s not going to be easy’. The heck I cared. Just cut me open and do your dirty work.

Eight-thirty am.

Thick knots of shit slink down my middle. Dead skinks, their tails unmoving in soft peaks as slow, thick cramps cling to my bowel. A bowel collapse would make me feel less of a stranger. Instead, I am in the bowels of the hospital. Visions of dancing and having sex without a tank of oxygen suffuse my thoughts, then the rusted cogs begin to shift. Slowly at first, then faster and faster, and time starts to slip until I am all death throes and thoughts of ‘my-god-what-if-die-on-the-table?’

The sun had climbed out of the shadows of rain. A cloth cap is placed on my head and I am wheeled away to my very own green mile. The payload of valium dissolved, I look to see the congregation of thirty odd. The thirty odd I might never see again. What of my mother, my father, my sister, my partner? What would I do? I’d be dead. Shame it be that way.

Screams echoed through the halls and I didn’t know how or care where the breath was coming from to fuel them. My mother would later tell me she didn’t know how I made such a noise, but we wagered that it was my death cry.

I didn’t want to lay down in the room with lights as big as satellite dishes, because I was afraid that once my body was supine, I would die. The room was checkered with strangers in masks and gowns and after some soft words, the collective theatre voice bade me good night.

‘Save me, for I am the Sex Goddess’, I retorted. A nurse stroked my face and said, ‘yes, yes you are.’

I surrendered myself to the milk in the syringe; lily white, liquid purity. The kind of death reserved for prisoners on death row who would never wake. The anaesthetic was such a flooding wave of orgasmic joy, it was almost agony.

My armour is cut open so hands and tools can busy and bury themselves in my torso. My breasts are peeled up to my neck, and I am literally off my tits. In the photos I see four days later, I notice that breast tissue looks not dissimilar to a cerebrum – just more finely textured; the patterns more intricate.

While scalpels excavate masses of scar tissue and bloody holes are packed with gauze, I sleep. My ‘native’ lungs – like dead, shrivelled bats – are dumped into a plastic bucket, then surgeons ease in the donor lungs one by one. They stitch and wire them into my chest whereupon they are met with oxygen and inflate in a great rush of life.

My chest is candle wicked with such care; sewn up with silken loops only to be released with the flick of a blade and the pull of a string, for my lungs were swimming with blood and needed to be plumbed. After a couple of hours, the clam-shaped hole resembled a scar once again – my armour back on.

Sunday 23 August, 1998. 9.30am.

I open my eyes to tubes and lines down my throat, up my nose, in my chest, up my vagina and in my neck. A machine breathes for me and would for the next three days. My chest is raw and puckered, and four tubes the size of garden hoses stick out of my chest at even angles like badges on a soldier’s lapel.

I was going lose my breath, I was going to lose my dignity and I was going to lose my cheekbones. But I was coming away with my life – armour on, sheltering my fall.

Happy Birthday, Dad ♥

Today is my Dad’s birthday. Words do not come easily when I speak or write of my loved ones. Sometimes I don’t know where to begin and if I do begin, it’s often impossible to know where to end.

So I will say this … I love you, Dad. You have loved me unconditionally, fought for me when I could not, threatened to kill for me when I could not, and you never gave up when things were seemingly insurmountable. Thank you for loving me, protecting me and fighting for me. You make me feel safe, lighter and so grateful that I have you as my father ♥

Here are a few photographs that capture the essence of me and Rosco …

After my ‘pre-designer vagina’ party back in 2007 that although he was horrified about, still came along to (we’re both just a little bit refreshed here)

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This was taken after my cancer surgery. Within days, I’d be fighting for my life and my Dad would be fighting even harder.
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Being an awesome grandad 🙂

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At Jose Feliciano …

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My all time favourite photo. 1996 at the Old Friary at Brookfield. One of the best days ever.Image

Peace, love and firearms

I often say I’m like the son my father never had.  I love cars, and Dad has some beauties. I love driving my Jeep, and can’t imagine driving an automatic car. I love speed – cars, boats, planes. And another thing … I. Love. Firearms. Always have and after today, I undoubtedly always will.

Until today, the only gun I’d ever shot was a .22 in a string bikini (those photos are in a vault), when I shot a roo out on my friends cattle station in Barcaldine. I remember being in the pool with Jayde and Katrina when the call was put out that we had roos inside the fence, so I pulled on my boots and grabbed the .22 next to the stereo which was playing Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Tusk’. To make a long story short, I managed to get the roo on my second shot from around one hundred feet. I walked out into the paddock to ensure it was dead. There are humane ways to kill pests on the land – don’t get me started on shooting kangaroos because I will win the argument – and that’s what I did.

When I took my Dad out to a shooting range to gun school for his birthday I was really out of practice (so was he). Dad or Rosco as we call him, has amazing stories about living in the outback back in the day and some of them involve firearms. I’ve injected a few of his stories into my novel set in 1973 outback Queensland because it’s always good to go to the source, like when I go to see my mate Gordon Greber.

This morning was sub-arctic. Even Rosco was feeling the chill, and he’s tough as nails. We were in a group of nine and we started on pistols (two different calibres – the second obviously more powerful than the first). We both thought we’d fall in love with the pistols, but more gun-a-licious fun was to come.

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^^ Friendly fire! I call this ‘you have awesome donor lungs and my friend needs a transplant – FREEZE!’

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^^ Dirty Rosco.

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^^ Smiling assassin … and yep – he’s still a crack shot.

We then moved onto the semi-automatics. We loaded the magazines ourselves, and away we went, moving to a higher calibre after ten shots. I was jubilant I’d brought my Mullum market gloves because it really was *that* cold.

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^^ Don’t fuck with me.

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(I’m loving Rosco’s growing his hair. Why? Because he can. It’s very Wyatt Earp. All he needs now is some pomade).

It was the shotgun I had the most fun with when we were shooting at clay targets – one of which I actually smashed. I jumped on my teacher, Lloyd and then the other whose name I can’t remember and he picked me up and twirled me around.

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We had five rounds of these ^^ There was just enough recoil through the shoulder and jaw to get the adrenaline swirling. The photo below shows Lloyd, myself and another instructor. Tough as nails blokes who I’d love to interview for my novel.

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We then moved on for the final activity – black powder pistol and rifle shooting. We had a tutorial where we listened to some incredible stories about the American Civil War and the firearms we were about to use. It’s a tortuously sad period of history, but incredible all the same. The outlaw Josey Wales carried seven of these on his body – one under his arm, two strapped to each ankle, two holstered to his side, one in the back of his trousers and one under his hat as he fired. On a horse. Now that’s multitasking.

We were shown how the powder is poured into five out of the six chambers, and then sealed with a paste made of olive oil and beeswax. It’s a gentle process and an exercise in patience. These men are passionate about history and were more than happy to lend their ear for a chat about the firearms we were shooting with. I fired an exceptionally powerful revolver – the sound and power shuddered through my chest and into to my spine, then down through my pelvis. For some reason it had a calming effect on me. Then I had five shots with a smaller calibre revolver, and as I discovered with the pistol shooting, wearing spectacles can be tricky to navigate. That’s my excuse for no bullseye.

Our team leader, Debbie was an impressive lady and so lovely. She’s a crack shot with pistols – that’s her weapon of choice. All the volunteers at the range were so hospitable and kind – they couldn’t do enough for you. When I was shooting the clay targets, I told Lloyd that I shake because of the anti-rejection medication I’m on (a lot of people think I’m nervous), so he gave me a couple of tips – about breathing, ironically – and I was set. Love your work, Lloyd.

If I was to describe in one word what it’s like when you’re handed a firearm of any kind, I would say ‘responsible.’ Guns kill people and people kill people – it’s a fact of life – and I’m grateful that the Howard government initiated the ‘buy back’ scheme after the Port Arthur massacre. It’s their greatest legacy by far.

Yes, holding and shooting firearms made me feel empowered and in control (and a little bit badass) but you need to treat these weapons with the utmost respect. Yes, I want to get my gun licence – I have for many years. There are a couple of properties I go to where guns are used and I’d like to be a licensed and proficient shot. It’s a long process as it should be, although it’s rarely registered gun owners who carry out acts of violence.

Shooting as a sport never made sense to me, but after today it does. It takes immense strength to hold a firearm steady for extended periods of time.

If shooting was a sport at the Transplant Games, I’d be gold medalling the fuck out of life.

Dad loved the .22 pistol and the .308 calibre of the semi-automatic. But being a Clint Eastwood aficionado, his heart lies with the black powder revolvers of the Wild West. For me, it was the twelve gauge shottie with the clay targets and the .308 calibre of the semi-automatic. Or maybe I developed grandfatherly emotions for Lloyd. Rosco and I had a beautiful day of bullets, mateship, high-fives and vast blue skies.

Far from being pacifists, both Dad and I are both lovers, not fighters, so I implore you to not confuse people who have a penchant for firearms as being pre-disposed to hatred or violence. It’s like putting me into a box where, because I love cars, I’m a dickhead on the road (I’m not).

So while I connect with certain ‘blokey’ stuff, I meditate, drink gallons of tea, make a mean chai, and enjoy gentler pursuits like crocheting, tending my little rooftop garden, playing my harp, swimming and reading. Most of all, I’m kind, compassionate, and have an endless supply of love to give.

Below is my favourite photo from today. Happy Birthday, Dad. I love you ♥

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There’s gunpowder under my fingernails, I can still taste the cordite on my tongue, and there’s SO much love in my heart ♥